The Bruni Digest

In which I sit on a dirt mound somewhere in Brooklyn with my ears pricked, waiting for New York Times head restaurant critic Frank Bruni, who I imagine to be a Venetian count in a huge ruffled collar, to dole out stars from the inside breast pocket of his brocaded chamber robe. This blog is predicated on the suggestion that every Wednesday, in the Times Dining Out section, Frank lays a huge faberge egg of hilarity.

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Location: New York, New York, U.S. Outlying Islands

I am fiscally irresponsible, which means I have weak bones and a dorsal fin. And a penchant for dining out, even though I am, in the words of many rich people, a "poor people". I make a different face when speaking each of the foreign languages in which I am shittily proficient.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Nobu 57: Spankin' it all over town!

I know what you're thinking. How could I have let Mainland go last week, and then Pegu, and then Frank's AMAZING piece about San Sebastian which literally mentions specific restaurants and details what they're serving, while simultaneously revealing that he's "never been there" and "would like to try it." I hope he emailed the article personally to Bill Keller with a link to Expedia.

As Frank's seed spreads into Television reviewing and Travel writing, I decided to hawk my nooner on 14th and 9th for mere pennies! Why? Because this week is all about promiscuity. To wit, Nobu births Nobu 57, to which Frank applies his monocle and royal princely gaze:

"The name says it all. This isn't a new dining experience. It's an old one on a different block, Nobu in a different dress."


"Its menu and its food elicit not so much a stab as a full-on body blow of the familiar."

A stab/body blow of familiarity? Interesting. Is that more like a “pants-exploding artillery fire of mediocrity” or a “shit-smattering explosion of comfort”? Either way you interpret it, one thing is certain: no kind of blow, body or other, is familiar to this guy


Well, in case you found the language confusing, allow me to interpret:

Not only is this the second franchise of a restaurant that exists downtown already, but it is a copy of a restaurant that has created the template for upscale Japanese dining, and so, like a virile truck driver on a national circuit with a homebody wife who can’t count to ten, Nobu has one legitimate child and many, many, many restaurants that conspicuously take after it, all over the country.

in the words of the late Robert Palmer, “simply irresistible.”

Most exemplary of this phenomenon, the oft-imitated black cod: “Here it is, a plump wedge of miso-glazed black cod, the culinary equivalent of a Cole Porter standard, covered and interpreted by so many artists...”

THAT IS SO INSENSITIVE! Just cause it’s a black cod you have to use a BLACK MUSICIAN?? What’s next, Frank, will CHIEF SITTING BULL provide you with an appropriate descriptive vehicle for RED SNAPPER? How about some MICHELLE KWAN RICE, you bigot!

What? What’s that you say? Cole Porter’s white? [gulp] Sorry. It is I who should be more sensitive. Let's forget this whole argument.

The famed African-American cod that Nobu so geniusly coated in miso might be so familiar “that you may not recall where and when you experienced it first.
That place was probably Nobu, and that time might have been 1994, when the restaurant opened in TriBeCa.”

Let’s seeeeee. 1994—I’m pretty sure in 1994 I was shoveling an “after-school snack” of melon-sized Costco muffins and Lucky Charms into my face with a lacrosse stick while watching my mother prepare the dinner I was to eat in T minues 7 MINUTES. (What were you people trying to do to me???)

“TIME OUT!!!!! Can you fit a game hen through my face cage? I’m peckish. Thanks”

"The familiarity of Nobu 57 reflects more than its sire's genes and zest for reproduction. It reflects - and is compounded by - its sire's broader legacy."
ZEST FOR REPRODUCTION!!! While this reads like a section of your Addison-Wesley 8th grade history textbook, let not its genes and legacy talk distract you from the fact that it is about sluttiness. (Also, this is another one of those passages that you're going to want to read aloud in British English while rolling your R's to get the full appreciation.)

"Nobu is to Matsuri and Koi as McDonald's is to Wendy's: a tutor and template."
What an instructive comparison!

Chef Matsuhisa, poised for vengeance outside Frank's apartment door with brothers Saul and Mario.

So after all this exhausting work, including a torrid night of sequentially banging both Nobu and Newbu, Frank concludes that Matsuhisa still has the original magic, three stars' worth.

"What mattered was that black cod. I'm almost convinced that Mr. Matsuhisa maintains a secret tank in which the fish toss back Jacques Torres chocolates and watch 'Finding Nemo' while they fatten."

Akin to his comment in April about Kobe beef at Shaburi: "As it cost $69 for about seven ounces, I hope and assume the pampering includes Tivo, Opus One spritzers and bovine facials."

Well, at least we know they all end up in the plush velvet Napoleonic drawing room which must line the Count's countly interior. Meanwhile, I'm going to go shoot cans of dogfood off a fence and chew on jerky with the chicken from Pathmark. Later!

Monday, September 19, 2005

I also read about television. But I PROMISE that's it. No, like, literature.

As I started to skim this article in the Television section of the Times today about the new “Kitchen Confidential” TV show, I was struck by the stylistic flamboyance of the piece. This was no “Straight-Shooter” Stanley, no “Hot Shot” Heffernan. When my titillated gaze jumped up to check the byline, it recalled the moment I found out that Santa was really Mommy: I had already, in my heart, intuited the truth (how could 2 strangers, one a suburban housewife, the other an overweight elderly Scandinavian philanthropist, have the exact same retarded, illegible handwriting? No, my instincts knew best). Frank's distinctive voice is as unmistakable to me now as my own mother's Stevie Wonder psycho-scrawl.

He begins:

“The meek better move to the end of the line. Chefs will inherit the earth. They have their product lines, publishing contracts and reality shows. Their empires traverse oceans. Their antics pepper gossip columns.”

Got that, Bible? Chefs, not Meek, to inherit earth. (Although I don’t know what my line-cook boyfriend would have to say about that… sometimes he inherits meats that are rotting or leftover cheese, but that’s about it.) Moving on.

“And now comes an additional helping of affirmation: a comedy on Fox that means to be hip, strives to be irreverent and wagers that nothing says lovin' like a stud muffin at the oven.”

NOTHIN SAYS LOVIN LIKE A STUD MUFFIN AT THE OVEN. That’s right, additionally, Fox is wagering that “if the beefcake’s shakin’ there’s a bacon in the makin.’” Said one studio exec, “[Cooper’s] buns are made for slappin’, gonna tap him till I’m crappin’!”

“The muffin man in ‘Kitchen Confidential’ is played by Bradley Cooper, familiar from ‘Alias’ and finally getting the kind of front-burner role he deserves.”
If you’re playing the Thematic “Kitchen” Metaphor Drinking Game, now would be an appropriate time for a shot of Jaeger.

Although in all fairness, he does deserve front-burner roles. At least, my front is burning just looking at him.

“He brings the show an ample measure of heat and a dollop of hope, his presence almost engaging enough to redeem an overstuffed, overbaked first episode.”
Bing! Bing bing! Jaeger shots all around! And you're going to want to get one of those extra big Skidmore/LeHigh commemorative sorority event quintuple-shooters for the conclusion:

Commemorating historic UVA girls' favorite places to bone athletes.

"Some viewers may well find a savory treat here. Others may want to hold out for the inevitable next phase in epicurean adulation, a Broadway musical about a quixotic Spanish visionary and his beloved steel griddle.

Anybody for 'Man of La Plancha?'"

No, but, funny coincidence, I am up for a role as one of the dead piglets competing for a place in a sack of herbed saltwater in this fall’s Off-Off-Broadway production of “A Chorus Brine.”


Friday, September 16, 2005

Bouley Bakery Upstairs: Ewww! You're Joining the Softball Team?

It’s no surprise that the Count alighted on Bouley’s Upstairs in the midst of a staff shakeup. The clown-car atmosphere the Count notes at the restaurant on his visits may be due to these putative scuffles. Complaints included an

“improvisatory, amateurish quality to the service: orders misunderstood, lags before drinks or dishes arrived, no coherent system whatsoever for managing, advising or even greeting diners.”

Maybe the place just hasn’t pulled it together, but isn't that allowed? Upstairs is like a sexed-up, corn-fed hussy on the verge of her 18th birthday, and Bruni is like an itinerant photographer with specious credits and a camera made of bubble gum. In other words, it was the Barely Legal of restaurant reviews, Upstairs having been opened a mere month.

Little newborn Upstairs couldn’t even figure what its opening times were: “None of the employees really knew.” Waiting diners grew anxious: “Mr. Bouley had morphed into a gastronomic Godot.”

Gratuitous diversion: In highschool we were asked to write and perform our own endings to Waiting for Godot and in mine, Escobar and Razzmatazz (or whatevs) had ducked into a shrubbery to have explosive diahhrea when Godot finally showed up, so they missed him. A+, Jules. What a student. Went over great in the auditorium in front of the parents.

This kid played the Diahhrea.

Well, anyway, it turns out that all of Upstairs' shaky service doesn't really count against it: the litany of complaints was a straw horse, a "necessary hedge against what I am nonetheless going to do: make a fervently admiring pitch for Upstairs.”

Some might ask, should a critic really be making pitches for a place? Is that his role? My issue is a little different: as a professional fag hag, I have serious qualms about your engaging in sports, Frank. We’re supposed to be behind the gymnasium chain smoking Marlboro reds together and pelting rocks at anorexics. 'Member?

The quality of the food (the reason for Frank’s fervent pitch) may have to do with the fact that Bouley is there cooking it: “Mr. Bouley, 51, looked at once enchanted and oblivious, a man in thrall to his own muse, which has always nudged him in surprising directions.”

“Thanks a lot, MUSE. Great. Fucking great.”

Apparently, Bouley had much bigger plans for this gastro-complex of his, but circumstances whittled the final product down to something less expansive. The resulting bakery, various food counters and restaurant “are the ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Dream’ outcome, much delayed, much diminished.”

“Wow! Look at the whimsical, industrious chef in my cereal! My gosh is he SEXY!”
"Uhh, I said your mother needs waxing!"

“The restaurant seems less like a coherently planned environment than an accretion of whimsies.”
Well, no one’s perfect. One time I was laughing really hard and I accidentally accreted a whimsy myself. Happens to the best!

The man himself is at the center of the review as much as he is at the center of his restaurant. Frank ends with this anecdote: "Acquaintances chat with Mr. Bouley as he cooks. One night, just before he nonchalantly wandered over and said hello to me, I watched one of those acquaintances grab a clump of herbs from the kitchen and sniff it."

They should talk to Subway about getting one of those Sneeze-Guards, huh? That’s a little too casual, no? What’s next, “I watched a curious child deep fry her ragdoll as her mother fondled the chest cavity of a dead hare.”


Well let's hope David Bouley hasn't totally taken his mind off of his flagship Bouley, accross the street, where I'll be tipping champagne flutes in honor of my mom's 60th birtday tomorrow.

This is us in our living room in New Haven, CT. She's a Finn who straddles creeks hurling spears at errant sea lions, so here's hoping the seafood's up to par. Wish me Bon Apetit! A Mercredi!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Perry Street: With Arms Wide Open

Oh Jean-Georges. It’s been a long time coming, huh? You’ve had to put up with ol’ “Smackdown” Bittman’s mortifying obsequies on the Food Network (is his show cancelled yet?), where I must say, you were nothing but adorable and gracious.

Before that, “Spindly” Hesser’s raves over your haremy Spice Market were drowned in indignant protests, after she neglected to disclose that she sleeps at the foot of your bed in satin genie digs.

"I didn't think it was a conflict of interest! What?"

Then, a year ago in July, Frank was in the finicky toddlerhood of his tenure as the NY Times restaurant critic; you had recently opened V Steakhouse, an overly embellished nightmare in the Time Warner Center. Frank was like a hopped up hunter with an M-16 and your restaurant was like a gaudy elk just asking to get nailed.


It was a Bruni masterpiece; but you found your name sullied and slapped across the marquee of a one-star infamy serving $25 apps.

Now, a year later, like a reformed slut who finally gets her lower-back tattoo lasered off, you’ve calmed down. You've gone demure.

And in this review (sweet dios, may it not last), so has Frank. Not only does he focus on the food, he does so … sort of… calmly. He begins with placid Confucianisms:

“SOMETIMES the best way to move forward is to revisit the past. Sometimes the loudest statements are the quietest ones, made without undue fuss, in precise gestures.”

Arigato, sensei! You forgot “Man stuck in pantry has ass in a jam ahahahaha!”

Wow. Couple lacking chromosomes makes retarded decisions.

Frank knows that Jojo has felt the sting of Frank's (and others') spanking: Perry Street is “a studied retreat from, and maybe even an act of amends for, the high-concept flamboyance of 66, Spice Market and V Steakhouse, the New York restaurants he opened between 2002 and 2004.”

But he still gets one more jab in:

“All three have their significant merits and pleasures - or at least the first two of them do…”

DAMN! SNAP! He really hated V. He goes on to say that these flamboyant restaurants have “vacuous showmanship in their DNA.”

Doctor! We've found an unusually large and douchebaggy string of amino acids in this blood sample!"
"Hmmm, looks like acute Jay Leno."
"He's not cute!"

But for every sassy, insulting zinger he’s ever loosed upon Perry Street’s ugly older sisters, he’s found something sublime at sweet little Perry.

Frank rather insightfully inspects JGV’s talent for “time-release gastronomy.” I’ve got the same talent— 17 minutes after I eat an artichoke, I’ll show it to you.

But JGV’s talent, slightly different, involves the engineering, in one bite, of a sophisticated fugue of flavor release:

In a gazpacho twist involving raspberries, the “sweetness of the fruit set the stage for, then ceded it to, the sourness and gentle heat of other players, which arrived as a second wave, a delayed epiphany.”
There's a lot more of this amazing Countly rhapsody, musically chronicaling each bite, which was enough of a pleasure to earn three stars for the prodigal son:

“Mr. Vongerichten has chosen a new tower of spare elegance in which to settle down - in more ways than one. He's back from the carnival.”

Who said anything about a carniv--

Well then. Welcome back indeed.